Another outing for Kiwi author

By Dionne Christian

Bob Darroch was inspired to write for NZ children.
Bob Darroch was inspired to write for NZ children.

One of the most popular picture-book characters in New Zealand children's literature celebrates a milestone this month: Little Kiwi turns 15.

The kiwi made his first appearance in Little Kiwi is Scared Of The Dark, in 2001. Now, creator Bob Darroch has him experiencing growing pains.

In Little Kiwi Whose Nest is Best? the bird can't get enough sleep because his little sister keeps kicking and Dad is snoring, so he leaves the nest in search of a better one. Will he find it or realise how good he has it at home?

Along the way he meets a kaka, kea, morepork (ruru), blue duck (whio) and fantail; an entire cast of our indigenous birds - all of which takes Darroch, now 75, back to the very reason he wrote Little Kiwi.

"I'd always been drawing but having a couple of grandchildren on my knee got me thinking about writing something for them," he recalls. "My first book was Sheep Are Not Very Clever, because I wanted to write about something New Zealand kids could relate to."

Darroch thought about a kiwi-themed tale, but figured there must be dozens of children's stories about our iconic national bird. He was surprised to find, back then, there weren't and delighted when his publishers requested one. The first story followed a conversation with his wife and daughter about getting to children to sleep when they were "scared of the dark".

When the book flew up the best-seller lists, no one was more surprised that Darroch.

"I'm quite surprised that they [the books] are still going strong; I think it's because I kept them set in New Zealand and wrote about the natural environment."

Not only that, the books hit that magical note where they appeal to both children - target readers are 2-8 years olds - and adults who have a wry smile at the recognisable high jinks in which Little Kiwi is frequently caught up.

Darroch says after the initial book he already had a few other ideas that were turned into stories. Some have been inspired by the grandchildren - notably 2010's Time for Bed, Little Kiwi - while others, like the fifth in the series Little Kiwi And The Dinosaur, were sparked by his observations of what the young ones are interested in.

"I went to an exhibition, a fossil show, and there were lots and lots of bones," he recalls. "I was up to my knees in small children yelling out the names; they seemed to know a lot more about dinosaurs than I did."

He's followed the same process for the past 15 years, usually taking six - eight weeks to write and illustrate each book. Darroch starts by making a plan which, he says, give him the luxury of being able to write the story in a matter of days - if that - before turning to the illustrations.

Yes, he's still got a few more ideas up his sleeve and, yes, he is well aware that Little Kiwi has gone global with the books being sent from local readers to friends and families around the world. Last year, Darroch won the Gaelyn Gordon Award for a Much-Loved Book for Little Kiwi Is Scared Of The Dark.

Storylines shortlists revealed

Choosing the next New Zealand book to buy for the young people in your life is easier, once again thanks to the Storylines Children's Literature Trust.

The Trust has published its 31-strong New Zealand Children's and teens' Notable Books list for 2016, comprising four novels for young adults, 10 children's novels, 10 picture books and seven non-fiction works.

Gillian Wess, Storylines executive officer, says the annual list ensures children, parents and grandparents, teachers, librarians and the public are aware of the range of high quality children's and teens' books being published in New Zealand.

The selection panel includes children's and YA librarians, authors, illustrators, teachers and academics; several members have served as judges for the New Zealand Post Children's Book Award and the LIANZA Book Awards.

In addition, shortlists have also been announced for the Trust's three major national writers' awards: the Joy Cowley Award for a picture book text, the Tom Fitzgibbon Award for a junior novel manuscript and the Tessa Duder Award for a young adult novel manuscript.

Shortlisted authors will find out if they've been successful on April 3 at the Storylines Margaret Mahy Medal Presentation and National Awards Day. The event is in Auckland each year on the weekend closest to International Children's Book Day, April 2, birthday of Danish author Hans Christian Andersen.

Storylines Joy Cowley Award

The Boy Who Could Fly, Nikki Cockburn, Lower Hutt
Little Brown Mouse, Hayley Bowman, Wellington
Mysterious Day In The Middle Of May, Belinda O'Keefe, Christchurch
No Mess And No Noise, Monique Reymer, Ohaupo
The Rare And Endangered Archew, Sarah Grundy, Wellington

Storylines Tom Fitzgibbon Award

Mud Boy, Melanie Dixon, Lyttelton
Tilly And The Trophy Tryouts, Christine Walker, Christchurch
Tui Street Tales, Anne Kayes, Auckland

Storylines Tessa Duder Award

Grow, Amy Martin, Ohaupo
The Knowledge Keeper, Jessica Pawley, Red Beach
The Sin Chronicles: New Blood, Gareth Ward, Havelock North
Wild Cards, Fifi Colston, Wellington

- Canvas

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